Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Rich, famous and in some cases good-looking, no one would ever think that a professional footballer would suffer from depression.
However, even the profession that just about every school-boy dreams about one day joining is not immune to dark moments, as we have unfortunately witnessed with the German goalkeeper Robert Enke’s suicide.
The Italian department of health has been studying the mental health of the Italian population and has come up with a figure of one in 10 who are suffering from depression.
Footballers suffer from the same problems the rest of the population face in everyday life – loss of job, lack of esteem and in the end what does it all mean?
One of those footballers is Mohamed Sissoko, who revealed to La Gazzetta dello Sport that he had fallen into depression very recently after picking up a serious foot injury, which kept him sidelined for seven months.
The midfielder’s Juventus team-mate Gianluigi Buffon is another who has felt the weight of the world on his shoulders, as he revealed in his autobiography.
“I wasn't satisfied with my life and football, which is my job. My legs would start shaking all of a sudden,” he wrote.
“It was a dark period because I am a sunny and optimistic person. I was thinking how can rich and normal people suffer from depression?”
LEFT TO SINK OR SWIM
Adriano turned to alcohol after the death of his father and Christian Vieri admitted that his mental well-being declined when injury kept him out of the 2006 World Cup.
At present, only Siena employ a full-time psychologist, although Genoa offer support to their players through a consultant while AC Milan, AS Roma and Udinese are in the process of hiring an expert in the field of behavioural interaction.
However, in general, footballers are left to sink or swim with their own thoughts.
Look at Davide Santon – just 18 but weighed down with a ‘new Maldini’ tag, the youngster was left weeping on the pitch during Inter’s recent league game with Palermo.
The teenager had come on at the start of the second half with the champions leading 4-0 only to be at fault with defensive slips as the visitors pulled the scoreline back to 4-2 at one stage.
Inter ran out 5-3 winners in the end, but it was all too much for Santon.
Having been berated by his team-mates, he broke-down in tears and was inconsolable as he wandered back to the dressing room at the final whistle.
He has not appeared in the Inter squad since, and after looking odds-on to make the final Italy 23 for South Africa he is now back in the U21s.
STRESS IS ON THE RISE
Santon’s team-mate Mario Balotelli is also suffering under his own weight of expectation – some of it his own making - and his surly attitude may hide a crisis of confidence as it dawns on him, at 19 years old, that the world of football is a cruel place indeed.
Doctor Maria Madalena Ferrari of the Italian Olympic Institute of Science claims that stress amongst athletes in general was on the rise.
“The goals are higher than ever before and this adds more pressure,” she told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Just as the body must be trained to perform to its best so must the mind. Sportsmen and women need to prepare for the lows as well as coping with the highs.”
Footballers in Serie A can find some solace in decent wages and secure contracts to lessen the blow of a loss of form – but if it persists, just like long-term injuries, it finally wears even the toughest character down.
Ciro Capuano does not play for a big club but has spent his career at the likes of Empoli, Bologna and currently Catania.
At 28, the full-back has been down that dark tunnel of despair when he lost all confidence: so much so he actually found it difficult to take the pitch.
Thankfully, his family and friends rallied round and helped him come through to rebuild his career.
Some have taken to employing their own life coaches – the most well-known being Vittorio Tognazzi, who has 100 Serie A and B clients on his books.
His greatest success came in 2006, when Fabio Grosso stepped up to take the winning penalty in the World Cup final.
“I knew Fabio would score,” recalled Tognazzi of that heady evening in Berlin.
“A few months earlier he didn’t even think he would be in the Italy squad but we worked together and I even sent him text messages when he was in Germany. When it came to the big moment I could see he was ready to be a world champion.”
SUPPORT AND GUIDANCE
It's just about every boy’s dream in Italy to become a footballer; such was the case with Fabrizio Miccoli, who at 12 years old was shipped off during the holidays from the deep south near Lecce to AC Milan.
However, without the comfort of family around, the tears became too much and he soon found a team nearer home.
Since then the Italian Football Association have taken measures to ensure that all youth teams have staff on hand to offer support and guidance to their young charges: on their education, dealing with homesickness, settling into a new region of the country and so forth.
Football is a way of life and even for the most talented the sacrifices are not to everyone’s liking, but any youngsters entering the sport can at least take heart that in the future help will be at hand on those first tentative steps.
It is when they enter the world of the professional game that they might soon get the blues.
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Very good piece. Very similar things happened with david james and carlton cole too in the BPL. I mean cmon , these guys are ppl too. I think its time we stop overevaluating them and get on with our problems and life.
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